Hachiman Tarō Ichidaiki (The life of Hachiman Tarō)

Item date: Undated [mid-18th century)
Grant Value: £10,000
Item cost: £13,000
Item date acquired: 2021
Item institution: Bodleian Library
Town/City: Oxford
County: Oxfordshire

Dr Alessandro Bianchi, Bodleian Japanese Librarian, writes:  The Bodleian is grateful to the Friends of the National Libraries for their support in purchasing a rare copy of Hachiman Tarō Ichidaiki, a work of popular illustrated fiction published in the second half of the 18th century. This set is complete in five volumes (180 x 129 mm), each preserving its original cover and pasted title slip. The book comprises twenty-five leaves of woodblock-printed text and images, with later hand colouring added to the illustrations by a contemporaneous reader. 

This edition of Hachiman Tarō Ichidaiki belongs to a publishing genre known as kurohon (black-cover books), identifiable thanks to their distinctive black covers and illustrated title slips. Kurohon were characterised by a strong interplay between words and images, and displayed a textual logic somewhat similar to modern day comics and graphic novels, with narrative parts separated by dialogues, which were often associated with distinct characters in the illustrations. Differing from Akahon (red-cover books), which targeted children, kurohon were intended for young adults and generally presented more complex stories, featuring exciting narratives and depictions of battles, biographies of heroes, or digests of stories borrowed from the repertoire of jōruri (Japanese puppet theatre) and kabuki plays. 

Although no copy of Hachiman Tarō Ichidaiki bears information about its production date and authorship, from the publisher’s device appearing on each volume we understand that this book was issued by Tsuruya, a publisher based in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) who specialised in comic fiction and illustrated books. Hachiman Tarō Ichidaiki became a bestseller and, after an initial print run, Tsuruya commissioned a second edition, with different illustrations and minor variations to the text. 

This copy has an interesting provenance. It was purchased by Issedo Shoten, a leading antiquarian bookseller in Tokyo, who previously acquired it at an auction in 2019. There seem to be earlier marks of provenance, including a date stamp in English, which suggests that the book was in the hands of a private collector in the immediate post-war period. Furthermore, the presence of the inscriptions “Mitamura” and “Hikogoro” in black ink throughout the five volumes suggests that in all likelihood, this book belonged to Mitamura Hikogoro, believed to be the son of a samurai family who lived in the second half of the 18th century. Kimura Yaeko and Sato Satoru, two leading scholars of kurohon, have identified several titles owned by the young Hikogoro, many of which are now housed in various institutions in Japan (Waseda University Library), Europe (British Library, British Museum), and America (Smithsonian). 

The generous contribution received from the Friends of the National Libraries was critical in securing this acquisition. The Bodleian is delighted to add Hachiman Tarō Ichidaiki to its holdings of Japanese rare books and further diversify its rich collection of children’s and young adult literature. We look forward to making this work widely available, through digitisation, scholarly activities, and public engagement.

Item Provenance
Bought from Isseido Bookshop, Tokyo.